Gonorrhea is the second most common sexually transmitted infection in the United States. More than 550,000 cases were reported in 2017, a 75% increase in the infection rate compared to just eight years earlier. With so many cases, it’s possible that you or someone you know may be infected. Better understanding how gonorrhea is transmitted, what symptoms to look for and how to it can be treated may help you live a healthier life.
With that in mind, here are five things you should know about gonorrhea…
1. Women and men can both be infected with gonorrhea
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, gonorrhea infection rates are somewhat higher for men than for women. Symptoms are more evident in men, however, which likely blurs the data some due to under-diagnosis in women. Young adults have the highest occurrence of gonorrhea, and infection rates increase dramatically for people with more than one sex partner. Doctors recommend anyone with multiple partners, particularly women 25 and younger, be tested regularly.
2. Gonorrhea can be spread through a variety of contact
Gonorrhea can be transmitted through any sort of contact with the vagina, penis, mouth or anus of an infected partner, even without ejaculation. Even momentary contact can be enough to spread the infection from one partner to the other. When a mother is infected, her baby may also become infected during childbirth.
3. Gonorrhea symptoms are often confused for chlamydia
The most commonly observed symptoms of gonorrhea – in both men and women – are the same as those experienced with chlamydia: burning during urination, unusual discharge from the penis, vagina or rectum, and pain or bleeding from the rectum. This can sometimes result in a mistaken self-diagnosis of chlamydia. Additional gonorrhea symptoms can include swollen neck lymph nodes, eye pain, light sensitivity, eye discharge and/or swollen, painful joints. In men, symptoms sometimes include pain in the testicles and foreskin inflammation. In women, symptoms may also include pain during intercourse, fever, vulva swelling, heavier periods, bleeding between periods and abdominal or pelvic pain.
4. Many people with gonorrhea do not have symptoms
Given the long list of symptoms above, you may expect it would be easy to know if you have gonorrhea, but roughly 10-15% of infected men and 80% of infected women experience no symptoms at all. When women do experience symptoms, they are often mild enough to be confused for a bladder or vaginal infection. People with no symptoms often go undiagnosed, placing them at risk for developing complications and for unknowingly spreading the infection to partners.
5. Gonorrhea is generally curable with the right treatment
The first step in treating gonorrhea is accurately diagnosing the sexually transmitted infection. In Gainesville, Sira offers free, confidential gonorrhea testing for both women and men. Once diagnosed, treatment generally consists of a series of antibiotics prescribed by your doctor. In some cases a single dose of antibiotics is sufficient to cure the infection. With more severe infections, especially with antibiotic-resistant strains of the bacteria, you may need to take medications for a week or longer.